Megan D.

Transitive Woman

Megan D. and Charlie P. co-founded the first ever group to be called “We Agnostics” in California in 1980. This is an article she submitted to the AA Grapevine two years ago, but was never published. We expect to have another post by Megan – who at 72 now has 33 years of continuous sobriety and volunteers at her local Central AA Office - in the near future. She is the author of a memoir, Transitive Woman.

By Megan D.

The “God stuff” was difficult for me to swallow when I first achieved sobriety. As a working professional, my career meant everything to me but I was near to blowing it – big time. Fortunately,  I decided none too soon, I’d be a son of a gun if I’d lose everything I’d worked for for years due to my alcoholism.

Having come from a chaotic family, I despised alcoholics, especially the women. Now, as a middle-aged woman myself, I was knee deep in self-loathing. So, as we do, I stumbled through the doors of AA with a load of resentments that was killing me.

The candlelight meeting I attended weekly was in the basement of a run-down church in Hollywood. I finally raised my hand and shared that I was an atheist and had paid enormous dues to be one. No one threw me out. Rather, they nodded their heads, and told me to keep coming back!

Despite being close to ending my own life, I despised their two-dimensional views. So I kept coming back – since there was no place left to go – above ground, that is!

After a time, a gentleman of about 60, with a woolen scarf and navy blue beret, approached me, “I noticed you weren’t saying The Lord’s Prayer.” My response of “Yeah – what of it?” brought only laughter.

With over nine years of sobriety he claimed there were many like us working the program and fully enjoying the promises. I was amazed and for the first time breathed easier.

Charlie P

Megan spoke at a memorial service for Charlie P held on April 22, 2012 in Hollywood. To hear the recording, click on the image.

When I was six months sober, he presented me with an idea after visiting family in Texas where he’d attended meetings with some NASA scientists who’d resolved the God problem. “How would you like to help me start such a meeting in Los Angeles for AAs and newcomers who are having a tough time with God like you did?” I said, “You’ve got it!”

With childlike enthusiasm, we named our meeting “We Agnostics,” after Chapter 4 in the Big Book.

The first meeting started in the summer of 1980 in West Hollywood.

Like Goldilocks, with porridge that was too cold, too hot, or just right, we were on a quest to discover a higher power that we could turn our worries over to. I soon realized I was on what I call a return to innocence.

We attracted brilliant sober and not sober members from many world denominations like Christian, Jew, Buddhist, atheist, agnostic, etc. The goal was to welcome newcomers; offer a safe setting to explore ideas. We assured them they could have a spiritual experience regardless of their beliefs. They could  reap the rewards of AA – but only if they were willing to work for them.

To my great relief, I realized I had at least three higher powers. The universe – as solid as our earth in many cases, was the first. My highest self – my most evolved or selfless nature was the second. And of course the wisdom expressed at AA meetings – a power greater than myself.

Some painfully won lessons I’ve learned over the years are these:

  • A problem with the “God stuff” is not a viable excuse unless your NEED TO PICK UP A DRINK is greater than your NEED TO NOT PICK UP A DRINK.
  • Attend meetings often… and get a sponsor. They’ve had their own struggle.
  • Learn to really listen and focus on the similarities in members, not the differences. Our diversity is our strength.
  • Develop a spiritual connection with your own concept of a higher power. You’ll find that there’s a profound difference between religiosity and spirituality. Incidentally, many have returned to the traditions of our childhood, but taking only what works!
  • Prayer is great therapy. Charlie P. taught me that when in pain, try getting down on your knees like I’ve learned doing – with gratitude, reaching out to the universe or to your highest self or whatever. Nothing bad ever happens – only good comes from it!
  • Use the tool of translation. Remember G.O.D. as Good Orderly Direction if you like.

I don’t know about you, but I never wanted a small piece of the pie of life. If I can’t have the whole pie, I don’t want any. In other words, I am willing to work towards being happy, joyous, and free – whatever that takes.

On January 19, 2011, Charlie celebrated his 97th year with 40 years of sobriety… and I am greatly honored to have celebrated my 70th year with 31 years of sobriety.

My life has changed considerably. To this day, I remain part atheist, humanist or Buddhist. Over the years I’ve learned to take each day as it comes. Admittedly, some are more challenging than others. But the bottom line is that most are happy, joyous, and free – because today the tools in my satchel are solid.

Epilogue

Eventually I started a second agnostics meeting in the San Fernando Valley, and I named it Wee Agnostics rather than We Agnostics. It was We Agnostics without the anger.

It was in a hospital with a detox ward. One day, a woman who was visiting a family member in that ward, came into our meeting without knowing that it was Wee Agnostics.

Towards the end of the meeting, she shared. She said that she was a nun and that she had just walked in cold. She said she rarely had gone to a more spiritual meeting. Instead of a “god” we had made “love” our higher power.

The next week, she led the meeting.

Over the years, I’ve had a priest take my hand, leading me from the podium to a silent and startled crowd saying that the atheists he’s come in contact with in the program are among the most spiritual people he’s known.

You can learn more about that first “We Agnostics” meeting, and about Charlie P., right here: Father of We Agnostics Dies.

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Comments

Megan D. — 17 Comments

  1. Charlie P. was a beloved friend, contributed much to my 31 years (so far). We were both “theatrical types” (what else in Los Angeles?), regulars at his LA We Agnostics meeting. He was a retired TV producer. He produced the first ever TV broadcast of Gian-Carlo Menotti’s Christmas opera, “Amahl & the Night Visitors”. I can never hear music from that work without thinking gratefully of the Great Charlie P.

  2. I loved the comment about getting down on her knees and praying – “nothing bad ever happened.” That made me smile. I think it is good to try things outside our comfort zone, even silly things. I was involved in a discussion about organizations/societies, especially spiritual organizations and as time goes on a tension emerges between the widening-the-gateway faction and the preserving-the-integrity-of-the-message faction. In time, the integrity of the message group wins out (or it has in other societies). It is nice to hear stories about how, with creativity, an organization can do both.

    • I have this hypothesis–but not to be taken too seriously–that in the future, neuroscience will make the discovery that getting down on our knees applies pressure on a vital area in the knee or lower regions (a kind of a acupuncture stimulus) which helps induce, in certain areas of the brain, feelings of calm and generosity.

      As well, not taking myself too seriously also induces, in me, feelings of calm and generosity.

  3. Megan, THANK YOU! One of my home groups is the Friday We Agnostic’s meeting on Sunset. It helped me stay sober this year. I have 28yrs however, this year was really struggling with staying in AA because of the religion. My second home group is the Santa Monica group on Tues. I love them both and never felt better. I now can go to regular meetings without all the anger, I now know I can believe what I like and nix the Lord’s Prayer..etc.. and still stay in the meeting and help others. It makes me feel SO much better to have the support from my homegroup meetings, which I drive to for sometimes up to two hours to reach in traffic from the Inland Empire. I am trying to get a meeting going in my area. Thank you again for taking action :).

  4. I and two others started a “We Agnostics” group in Columbus,Ohio. Among some 600 AA meetings per week in central Ohio, we are the only agnostic/atheist group, and it is “Open” to anyone.

  5. Nice essay. It brings back memories for me, for I too helped start an agnostics meeting, in Park Forest, Illinois, in 1981, after I had been sober for a year. The trigger was the AA pamphlet Why We Were Chosen, which I found thoroughly disgusting (If I remember correctly, it says that god made us drunkards so that after we sobered up we could help other drunks sober up too). After reading that piece of bilge, I resolved to help start our meeting. We modeled it after the Quad A meeting in Chicago, and called it Agnostics and Others. Our primary text was Living Sober.

    Unlike Megan, however, I am no fan of using a higher power no matter how euphemized or secularized, and prayer isn’t for me either. In fact, I’ve just started yoga classes at my local gym and find that I’m quite uncomfortable about putting my hands in a prayerlike position when the instructor calls for it. I don’t think I will do it anymore.

    I just wish that AA were capable of casting out the nonsense, or that another completely nonreligious and nonspiritual sobriety group would arise to take its place. I think that even the agnostic AA groups don’t take things far enough forward–I personally would love to attend sobriety meetings where nary a peep is heard about the steps.

    • There’s Rational Recovery and Lifeline. I found both both had strong resentments against AA, and I feel that neither of them could have helped me when I was still wet. There are other secular organizations also.

  6. I wonder if Megan ever attends the We Agnostics meeting in Santa Monica. I do when my wife and I visit our daughter, son-in-law and Golden Retriever twice a year since 2007. As an atheist, I enjoy the meeting.

  7. It’s funny, despite the statement that gets made at most meetings, “this is a spiritual program, not a religious one”. how so many people assume that without God, spirituality can’t be achieved.
    It was a Catholic priest who explained spirituality best for me. He said that if you’re human you are spiritual. And that the human spirit could be equated to electricity, neither good nor bad. It’s value was in its application. Extending the metaphor, he went on to say that electricity that is unshielded is quite destructive, like lightning or faulty wiring that can cause house fires. On the other hand, electricity that is grounded and run through shielded cables provides us with light, warmth, mobility, long distance communication and so on. Used properly and respected for its immense power, electricity is among our greatest discoveries and has changed so many lives for the better we can’t begin to truly appreciate it. Same with the human spirit. He used the example of the late Janis Joplin and her intense performances. Nobody could dispute just how spirited those performances were, how electrifying her stage persona was. But that same spirit drove her to drink to excess, inject drugs intravenously and eventually succumb to an overdose before her thirtieth birthday.
    The point is, as living, breathing human beings we are spiritual creatures. If we respect that, seek to engage it to its greatest purpose, we will not only enrich ourselves and the quality of our own life, we will inevitably do the same for others.
    Thanks to the author for making that point.

  8. This was really great and interesting but I can’t help wondering – are wee agnostics little kids who aren’t sure if a God exists – or possibly vertically challenged agnostics? (Sorry.)

    • I enjoyed the essay. Rosemary shared some of her concerns. I John as an alcoholic in recovery must also resign from the debating society. Like Rosemary I used to over analyse things to the point of obsessive compulsion, hence I would get angry at the person, place, or thing and as a result eventually take a drink,or a drug. I have not met too many alcoholics/addicts who are not intelligent and over think. I am one of the worst offenders. For John K to be happy, joyous and free. I must live and let live, plus keep my mind/brain open to other individual’s beliefs and experiences. The best of intentions to all online and people in and out of sobriety. Thank you John K.

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